National Spokesperson

Kathy Bates 


In 2003, at age 55, I was diagnosed with stage one ovarian  cancer  and  immediately  had  surgery, followed by nine months of chemotherapy to treat it..

I didn’t  tell  anybody. I continued  to  work right after the  operation, doing  Little Black Book with Brittany Murphy. My agent  at the time was  very old-school and didn’t want me to be the poster child for ovarian cancer. I didn’t want anyone  to  know, but  it  really took a lot out of me.

My aunt had died from it, my mother had it, my niece had it and while I tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2  gene  mutation  that  increases  a woman’s risk  of  breast and ovarian  cancer it  was “not a get out of jail free card.” 

Though cancer-free, I began dealing with my biggest challenge yet: lymphedema, a disease that’s commonly caused by the removal of lymph nodes during cancer treatment. It causes extreme pain and swelling and has no cure. It’s a souvenir you don’t want. I really felt that life was over for me. I probably wouldn’t work again. I was angry for a long time.

In the summer of 2012 I felt like I was nearing rock bottom. Even so, I hoped for some kind of sign from the universe that her life was about to get better. Then a bird crashed into my window.

I was still reeling from NBC's spring cancellation of her series, Harry's Law, just months before when I started noticing strange pains in her abdomen. That past Christmas, just before we were canceled, I had been really exhausted. But I just chalked it up to all the work on the show, and I let months go by.

The new pain was finally enough of a red flag to send me to my doctor, who found that I had stage II breast cancer. With a strong family history of the disease   I barely hesitated before deciding on a double mastectomy.

I continued to struggle with pain after the July 2012 surgery,  which  also  required  the  removal   of  19 lymph nodes. One of the tubes they put in on my left side  must  have  been  pressing  on  a  nerve.  The doctors were very leery of prescribing too much pain medication  because  of  the  risk of addiction -- so I was  in  a lot  of pain  for weeks and weeks  -- and I was very angry, both about my diagnosis and about the show being canceled. It was an awful time.

Finally, a beautiful sunny summer day dawned. The painful  tubes  were  out  at  last. I was sitting at my patio,  enjoying  the  weather and hoping that things were  finally  looking  up,  when   a  tiny  finch  flew straight  into  the  plate  glass doors and crashed to the pavement.

I picked up this little bird. His head was hanging off my palm, and his feet were drawn up in agony. I sat down holding him  and  wishing so much that there was  something I could do. After a  minute or so, lo and behold, this little bird flipped over in my hand. I could feel his tiny claws. His head was up,  and he was panting a little bit.(Cont'd at Right)

My niece, a breast cancer survivor herself, brought out a paper cup of water. The bird drank from it and then flew away. My niece said, 'Are you getting the message yet?' I asked what message she meant. She said, 'Life goes on You've been given another chance.' That was a very powerful lesson.

I decided  to turn my frustration into  good  by helping raise awareness about lymphedema and became the National Spokesperson  for the Lymphatic Education & Research  Network  (LE&RN). We  are  working on getting  a  bill passed  in New York  that will mandate that hospitals have literature to inform patients about lymphedema. 

I”ve  learned  to  manage  my  own  pain  by  wearing compression  sleeves  on  my arms and losing 60 lbs. through exercise and a healthy diet.

Today my career continues with roles in the American Horror  Story  and the  upcoming film On the Basis of Sex. Acting  is my  life force.  I’ve  considered getting breast reconstruction  but don’t want to take time out of my busy schedule  for surgery because I’m having too much fun.

My advice to women: Get regular checkups and stay healthy. Quit  taking  the  damn  selfies  and worrying about  what  you  look  like. Instead, keep everything working and in good order.

Watch  Stand  Up  To  Cancer  airing  on  networks including  ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC and  streaming live on PeopleTV Friday, September 7 at 8PM ET/PT. Go to or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.
Find out more about Kathy Bates by visiting her Website, Following her on Facebook,Instagram or Twitter   

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